TORONTO — Lazarus Esports has joined forces with SheIS to shine a spotlight on women's esports.
For SheIS, a not-for-profit group whose goal is to "leverage the power of women in sports," it's a chance to connect with and highlight a growing field of sports. For Canada's Lazarus, and parent company Tiidal Games, it's an opportunity to be an industry leader.
Brenda Andress, former commissioner of the recently shuttered Canadian Women's Hockey League, is the president and founder of SheIS. Andress says the organization, which was announced about a year ago, is already making waves.
"It's like the Winnie the Pooh and Piglet in a windstorm trying to hold the umbrella down, because it's taken off so phenomenally," she said in an interview.
The SheIS Collective includes the National Women's Soccer League, WNBA and other women's leagues as well as the United States Tennis Association, Rugby Canada and Baseball Canada, among other organizations. They meet to find ways to celebrate women's sports and athletes and share each other's accomplishments.
"The bottom line is attendance and viewership is the key to women's sports," said Andress
SheIS looks to help, with a schedule of women's sports on its website (www.sheissport.com).
In Lazarus, Andress found a willing partner.
Last September, the SetToDestroyX esports company connected with Toronto venture capitalist Liberty Venture Partners and rebranded as Lazarus Esports, with Tiidal Gaming becoming its parent company.
Earlier this month, Tiidal named former CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge its chairman to help accomplish its goal of bridging the gap between esports and traditional sports.
The company has offices in Waterloo, Ont., and Toronto in addition to space in Los Angeles to house some of its pros.
Lazarus has 52 pro gamers, representing 11 different titles, living in 11 different countries. Some 20 per cent of those are Canadian.
For Tiidal CEO Charlie Watson, the partnership with SheIS is about empowering women and opening the door to opportunity. It also shines a spotlight on Lazarus' female League of Legends and CS:GO teams, which operate in women's esports leagues.
The Lazarus CS:GO women's team, just back from a second-place finish at the WESG World Finals in Chongqing, China, is currently in Denmark for the Copenhagen Games.
Many may wonder why men and women don't just play in the same league. The NBA 2K League took a step forward in March when Chicago's Chiquita Evans became the league's first female pro, drafted in the fourth round by Warriors Gaming, which is operated by the Golden State Warriors.
Female gamers have also competed alongside men in the past in the Call of Duty and other leagues, said Watson.
"There's still a lot of work to be done in the industry to merge men and women, co-ed, on the same teams," he added.
But he believes it is just a matter of time before "those two worlds ... collide" and more co-ed teams emerge.
"We hope we're one of those leaders moving forward," he said.
In all, eight of Lazarus' 11 teams — including the two women's squads — rank in the top five in their leagues. The Lazarus roster also includes Michael (Skimbo) Skimbo, the top-ranked Madden player in the world, and several of the top 10 NHL gamers.
Andress sits on Tiidal's board of advisers, as does Neil Duffy, chief commercial officer of World Gaming and the Collegiate StarLeague.
American Conor Daly, who will attempt to qualify for his sixth Indy 500 this May, is also an adviser and serves as official ambassador for Lazarus Esports FORZA and GT Sports players and teams.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press